Review of the Year 2018
Best article: Andrew Sullivan’s magnificent piece on America’s new religions. If you haven’t read it already, take ten minutes at some point at read every sentence; it explains our innate religiosity, and what happens when it gets projected onto politics, with tremendous clarity, via John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Steven Pinker, Christopher Hitchens and John Gray:
Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion” …
Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.
Best topical YouTube clip: This one came out in the last 24 hours, and if (like me) you either like The Apprentice or dislike Man Utd, you’ll love it. Alan Sugar fires Jose Mourinho (slight language warning):
Best movie: the extraordinary Danish thriller Den Skyldige (“The Guilty”). One actor, in one office, for an hour and a half, yet one of the most gripping films I’ve ever seen (and it has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard of). Go see it:
Best TV show: this was a great year for British thrillers, with shows like McMafia, Bodyguard, Unforgotten, Killing Eve and The Little Drummer Girl surpassing many of the American boxsets we watch. But nothing compared to David Attenborough’s Dynasties, which knocked the rest of 2018’s offerings into a cocked hat. Masterful.
Best show: Hamilton. (I’ll come clean: Hamilton was the only show I watched in 2018. But I’m pretty confident that even if I’d watched dozens, I would still think it was the best. By miles.) Historical hip-hop with wit and verve it is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it, as well as the best portrayal of Lewis’s “Inner Ring” that you’re likely to find.
Best conference message: the MLK50 Conference in April included several extraordinary messages, from Charlie Dates, Matt Chandler and others, but this fifteen minute fusion of poetry, prophetic summons and biblical exposition from Jackie Hill Perry was the high point. If I taught a course on preaching, I would use it as a superlative example of how to use words:
Best tweet: when I first saw PETA’s tweet on using animal-friendly language, I thought it was beyond parody. It turns out: it wasn’t. Not by a long chalk (or, to avoid anti-calcium language, “not by a long way.”)
Best conference paper: Rachel and Jacob Denhollander at ETS on the Trinity, penal substitution and our response to sexual abuse. Marvellous.
Best journal article: David Armitage’s provocative article on the census in Luke (and how it means much of what we think we know about the Christmas story is wrong.)
See you next year!